While the rest of us were out gallivanting in different parts of the world this summer, Rodrigo Boscolo (WG’14) was hard at work making sure we never have to deal with the headaches and inefficiencies of group travel planning ever again. Rodrigo’s startup Tripeese.com combines the social features familiar on Facebook with the ability to pick and purchase experiences in real-time, allowing groups to interact over actual search results, vote on the best options and finally make a booking together. Following Tripeese’s exclusive beta launch within Wharton last week, we sat down with Rodrigo to get his take on online travel, advice on starting up at Wharton, and get the scoop on what’s next for Tripeese.
Wharton Journal: Online travel is an extremely crowded space. For a first-time entrepreneur, why focus on this area?
Rodrigo Boscolo: We started Tripeese because we found a real problem that had not yet been solved and that problem happened to be in the travel space. While I wouldn’t say that we specifically picked this industry, being avid travelers helped us experience this pain point first hand and recognize that the process to plan and book trips in groups was broken.
Online travel is indeed very competitive space, but we believe that if we learn to deal with incumbents (Expedia and Homeaway, for example, are our partners) and build a solution that saves users time and money (as opposed to being just another “fun” tool), the rewards can be substantial.
WJ: What makes Tripeese different from the whole slew of other travel startups out there today?
RB: We believe Tripeese is different from other startups in the travel space for several reasons. First, Tripeese’s focus is on group bookings. There are plenty of startups trying to help travelers get inspired and share their preferences, but few pay attention to the end of the conversion funnel. Second, we want to offer a full range of experiences and go beyond travel. We talk about “experiences” because, while we are starting with travel, we want Tripeese to become the top online destination for groups, helping users to book a wide array of activities such as cinema, concerts and sport events. We want to simplify the group purchase decision process and, whenever possible, take advantage of the number of buyers to obtain group discounts. Finally, we are capturing and analyzing data to learn how groups shop together, so that we can optimize our interface for those users. That sets us apart from traditional online travel agencies, which focus on individual travelers.
WJ: Most online travel agencies (OTAs) increasingly rely on the hospitality sector (vs. airlines or car rentals) to generate a big bulk of their revenue. Talk to us about your business model, and how it may differ from or mirror the OTA merchant model.
RB: Airline commissions were dramatically reduced in the last couple decades and hotels have been the major source of revenues for online travel agencies (OTAs) since then. While the traditional commission model is still common, most OTAs tried to increase their margins by using variations of the merchant model (when OTAs receive an allocation of rooms at a certain rate and mark up on top of that) and the opaque pricing model (when users bid for rooms with certain characteristics and only later find out about the hotel brand). Recently, OTAs also included tours in their portfolio, since they can negotiate higher margins with operators.
In our case, we decided to partner with Expedia for flights and hotels and Homeaway for vacation rentals. When users book through us, we receive part of our partners’ commissions. This model allows us to integrate multiple partners and quickly have access to a very large inventory. As we grow our user base, we believe we can explore several other monetization paths, including merchant agreements for group rates and PPC advertising targeted at specific group profiles.
WJ: You’ve just started the Semester in San Francisco program with 60+ other second-year MBAs. How do you see being part of this program, and being in the Wharton West campus, being helpful to Tripeese in its early days?
RB: I am extremely excited with the Semester in San Francisco program. First, because our curriculum is directly applicable to the challenges we face while building a technology startup. Second, because I am surrounded by like-minded classmates that have similar aspirations and are extremely supportive. Finally, being able to dive into the most vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in the world is invaluable for all it entails: access to talent, mentorship and (hopefully) funding.
WJ: What about online travel excites you the most?
RB: I love to travel and it is great to be able to work with something that not only brings people joy, but also helps them forge friendships, learn to respect others and think more broadly. From a business perspective, what is exciting about online travel is that it is massive and ready for disruption. Most large players are still very much tied to their old way of doing things – their websites look the same as they did decades ago, even with the huge transformations that are happening with social media and mobile. There are many startups trying to change the industry and we want to help drive transformation as well.
WJ: What’s next for Tripeese post alpha launch? What are you hoping to achieve over the next 6 months?
RJ: We have launched the first version of our website at Wharton only. There is still a lot to be changed and improved and we believe Wharton is the best place to acquire our first users and quickly learn from them. We’re putting together a bigger team and plan to seek seed funding in the next couple months. After that, we want to formally launch to the broader public and grow across the country.
WJ: You started working on Tripeese during your first year at Wharton. What were the steps you took, resources you found useful and in general, what advice would you give to students looking to launch startups during their Wharton MBA?
RB: Wharton is a formidable place to launch a startup. Professors and classmates will always be ready to challenge your thinking and offer you support. Personally, I tried to take advantage of courses focused in entrepreneurship (MGMT801 is a must), engaged and participated both in the eClub and the Founders club, took my chances at the business plan competition and joined the Venture Initiation Program (VIP). All of these resources were instrumental in the process of generating ideas, vetting them, and getting them off the ground. Other than leveraging all these resources, I would advise students with entrepreneurial ambitions to meet professors one-on-one and ask for their mentorship, use the alumni network for business partnerships (that was our entry at Expedia) and reach out to the broader Penn community, where talent abound.